The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with John O’Flaherty
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
The Aeneid, Book I, lines 624-631, (trans. Robert Fitzgerald, 1992)… The famous “lacrimae rerum” verse.
When did you first come across this?
My father died when I was at school and a teacher read me the verse. It was appropriate for the circumstances. Bad things happen. They happen to us all. Each must bear his own suffering but if you are lucky you are not entirely alone. We have the consolation of fellow feeling and what Yeats calls “Spiritus Mundi”.
Can you tell me a bit about this verse and its context?
“A fugitive, this captain, buffeted Cruelly on land as on sea…”. Aeneas, survivor of the Trojan Royal family is in search of a new home-land. In this verse he and his followers make landfall at Queen Dido’s Carthage. Coming ashore the party come across a Great Temple “…staring amazed at the handiwork of artificers…. He found before his eyes the Trojan battles…”.
What is it about this extract that appeals to you most?
I particularly like this verse because it sums up so much of what life is often about: there is pain, suffering, misery and death but, by way of solace, there is pathos here communicated to Aeneas through art and to us through this verse. Aeneas realises that here the glory, the splendour, the tragedy of his family and his country is recognised and commemorated. If we are not amongst friends, we are amongst people who understand these emotions which transcend the banal; we are strangers amongst strangers but we recognise and share a common understanding of the world.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Drink, read, travel, plan the damnation of my enemies and fantasise about being freed from the awfulness of having to make a living and deal with cretins all day long!
“I was born 1966 in Aldershot. My father was a soldier who fought in WWII, Korea and Malaya. He was one of the first Commandos and in 1960 founded 29 Commando Regt, RA. I lived all over the world and, when my father died in 1980, settled in Kent. My mother was born in India and grew up there. In 1945 she went to Japan with the occupation forces and that’s where she met my father. I am the youngest of eight children.
I read History at Durham but was too immature to take advantage of the opportunity (or perhaps had other priorities). I can’ t remember who said education is wasted on the young but there might be something in that remark!
I joined the Navy in 1989 and served in The Gulf, Hong Kong and Northern Ireland. When I left the Navy in 1994 I got a job in shipping in Hong Kong. I’ve been overseas ever since and have lived in Copenhagen, Bahrain, Saudi, Dubai and Singapore.
My wife and I have three children. An 18-year-old boy who is autistic but a wonderful, good natured fellow, a daughter of 15 (who is less good natured but will, God willing, be fine) and a 13 year old boy with cerebral palsy. My wife is from Cheshire, trained as a nurse and then became a lawyer in the 1990’s. She’s just got a job on the Law Faculty at National University of Singapore (which is an outstanding University) and I am very proud of her. I have a house in Switzerland and, if I can ever afford it, that’s where I hope to retire.”